Japanese spearhead Kei Nishikori felt he played some of his best tennis since elbow surgery in 2019 Monday, but it still wasn't enough to prevent a first-round defeat at the Australian Open.
Nishikori, a four-time quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park who has slid down the rankings to 41, was outlasted by Spain's Pablo Carreno-Busta 7-5, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2.
The 31-year-old, who is now fit and healthy, had been hoping for a good showing at the opening Grand Slam of the year as he attempts to return to the top 10. He reached a career-high ranking of four in 2015.
"Well, tough because I thought I was playing well but Carreno was playing better today," said Nishikori, who missed most of last season recovering from the injury.
"I thought I was playing pretty high level. For me, I played, I think, one of the best tennis so far, including last year after coming back.
"I was kind of happy the way I'm playing with this level, but still not enough to beat this guy."
Carreno Busta came into the clash after solid preparations at the ATP Cup, where he won two singles matches and lost one.
Another Spaniard, Pedro Martinez, piled more misery on Japan by beating Yoshihito Nishioka 6-7 (3/7), 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 to end the Japanese number two's campaign.